Library board tells KCLS to reconsider Ober Park

After an outpouring of opposition to the library’s potential move out of Ober Park, the King County Library System (KCLS) and the Vashon Park District are poised to resume discussions about the location of the Island’s heavily used branch.

The decision comes in the wake of a KCLS board meeting in Redmond last Tuesday evening, where dozens of Islanders told the library system’s board they wanted the branch to remain at Ober Park — in the town core and adjacent to one of the only public playgrounds on Vashon.

KCLS’s four board members, after listening to Islanders for about 45 minutes Tuesday evening, told Bill Ptacek, the library system’s executive director, to resume discussions with the park district board to see if the issues that had led the library system to seek a location elsewhere could be resolved.

At the same time, the library board told Ptacek to continue to pursue the possibility of siting the branch at a former machine shop at the proposed K2 Commons — a location top library administrators prefer because of the ample parking and the fact that a 10,000-square-foot building with all the necessary infrastructure already exists there.

The current library is about 6,000 square feet; the library system, in a 2004 bond measure, promised the Island a 10,000-square-foot branch, the size of the former machine shop at the K2 site.

“In the interest of making sure the system is an intelligent, responsive and thorough process, the board would like the executive director to go back and revisit and explore with the parks commission to see if the issues ... could be responsibily addressed,” Robert Spitzer, a Seattle lawyer and a member of the KCLS board, said in an interview last week. “We want to make sure we had this important information before making any final decisions.”

Vashon Park District is also attempting to reach out to the library system and respond to Islanders’ concerns.

After KCLS’s board meeting last week, park board Vice Chair Bill Ameling, who attended the KCLS meeting, made it to the tail end of the park board meeting and put forward a motion to offer up the land underneath the Vashon branch to the library system for a low-cost, multi-year lease or, if legally allowed, gift the land to KCLS. The park district owns the land, while the library system owns the building.

Such a move would rescind a previous resolution by the park district board, which said in early 2007 that it would not renew the library system’s lease because of the park board’s unhappiness with KCLS’s plans to remodel the existing branch.

The park commission will vote on the motion at its next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 10.

Mike Collins, the newly elected chair of the park board, said the developments of the last week are auspicious. Collins, a former timber executive who has been involved in difficult negotiations, said he has asked for a meeting with Ptacek to try to begin rebuilding the frayed relationship between the two entities.

“I’m excited. I’m energized. I’m really pleased that this is moving forward, and I’m optimistic ... that it will conclude in a way that works for the community,” Collins said.

In yet another development, the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council’s board decided Monday night to ask members at its meeting in two weeks whether the entire Island should be surveyed about the library location — a move it made after Islander Tim Morrison brought a motion requesting a survey before the council’s board. The community council also agreed to kick in $500 towards the effort, estimated to carry a price tag of $2,000 or more. It will also ask members to create a new ad hoc committee to oversee a survey, Morrison said after Monday’s meeting.

“This is an important decision, one that will impact us for years. And for that reason, I think it’s necessary that we allow Islanders to have a voice in it — as complete a voice as possible,” Morrison said.

The community council will vote on the motion at its general membership at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 16. Every Islander age 18 or older is eligible to vote.

Martin Koenig, who spoke at the KCLS board meeting in Redmond and helped to organize the caravan of Islanders who attended it, said he was encouraged by the change in direction and the KCLS board’s response to Vashon. Twenty Islanders spoke at the KCLS board meeting, 19 opposed to the move and one — Dick Sontgerath, one of the K2 Commons developers — in favor of it.

“They were there for 60 minutes listening to testimony,” Koenig said of the KCLS board. “Their eyes never glazed over. ... These people were listening.”

Of particular note, he said, was Ameling’s statement to the board and Ptacek. Ameling, at a meeting on Vashon two weeks ago, took aim at Ptacek, saying it was because of his refusal to reopen discussions with the park board that the library system was bent on moving the branch from the park. Last Tuesday, he apologized for those comments.

Koenig, who noted that Ameling’s voice at times cracked, said his comments were powerful and eloquent. Ameling told the board that although he was involved in the negotiations from the beginning, “for the life of me I don’t understand how and why they went sideways,” Koenig reported. He also noted that Vashon Park District has excellent partnerships with a range of entities, partnerships that have paved the way to some excellent programs.

“It was just beyond me how two institutions with long histories of community involvement so utterly failed the community,” Ameling said after the meeting. “I said I was rude because I was so utterly frustrated. And I apologized for that.”

But Ptacek, reached last week after KCLS’s board meeting, said he won’t know until his meeting with Collins if the situation between the two governmental entities has truly changed.

“Officially, it’s still a ‘no’ from the parks board,” he said.

“I don’t know that there’s a shift in anything,” he added. “Right now, we’re just continuing to get information.”

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